Hillbilly Elegy: Just Read the Book and Give Glenn Close an Oscar – Netflix Review

Ron Howard brings us a mediocre film that seemed like a guaranteed hit.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

The Vances are an Appalachian family who moved to Middletown, Ohio first under Bonnie “Mamaw” Vance (Glenn Close) and her husband Papaw (Bo Hopkins) three generations prior to the present. J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso/Owen Asztalos) is a law student at Yale who is informed on the day before a major interview that his mother, Bev (Amy Adams), is in the hospital from a heroin overdose. He goes back home to help his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), deal with Bev. As he goes home, he flashes back to his youth as his family started to fall apart and he ended up being raised by his grandmother.

The Vance family, pre Ivy-League.


This movie should have been called “Oscar Bait,” because that’s clearly what it was supposed to be. It’s a sad, true story adapted from a book about poor people in Appalachia, drug use, and overcoming the odds that was directed by Ron Howard and stars Glenn Close in a role where she is hardly recognizable. Throw in Amy Adams doing an accent and playing a drug addict and everyone knows this film was going to get multiple statues. Unfortunately, it turns out that no matter how many guaranteed award ingredients you put in, you can still wind up with a big plate of mediocrity. 

“Amy Adams made herself look less attractive, that’s supposed to be an Oscar right there!”

I’ll go ahead and say it, maybe whoever adapted this book to film didn’t quite understand it. Vanessa Taylor, the screenwriter, was the author of The Shape of Water, so clearly she knows what she’s doing in general, but the book Hillbilly Elegy is extremely personal and incredibly pointed criticism of society through the eyes of J.D. Vance. He mostly just uses his family as a way to explore the state of Appalachia and the politics he blames for the problems there. Personally, I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, but I will admit that it is a well-written memoir that shows how well Vance can sell an anecdote as evidence. Since he’s a lawyer, that’s a useful skill, even though that kind of thing often results in people attributing the wrong causes to effects. Regardless, it’s hard to dissociate the anecdotes and the stories that Vance relates with the commentary and the commentary only works because of the personal relationship the author has with the story. It would require someone with a similar relationship to bring this book to film and I don’t think either Taylor or Ron Howard had it. They tried to take the politics out of it, which makes sense for an adaptation, but that means the only story that remains is an overdone mess.

Playing Opie doesn’t mean you actually know a methed-out Mayberry.

The film is pretty unfocused. It tries to tell stories about J.D., Bev, and J.D. as a child, but it never really gets us involved in any of them. We know that J.D. will eventually get to Yale Law School so we’re always expecting that moment when he buckles down and takes control of his life. When it happens, the movie doesn’t feel like it’s hitting a climax, but instead just hitting a beat. Most of the scenes are like that, and it robs the movie of a lot of the emotional investment. 

If you say these people cause their own downfalls, then why do we care when they fail?

Glenn Close, though, almost saves this movie at times. Her performance is so very dedicated and powerful that it stands out quite a bit from the rest of the crowd. When, at the end of the film, you’re shown images of the real Mamaw, she appears to look and move almost exactly like Close’s performance. Close goes into the role almost as much as Gary Oldman did in his performance as Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hours. Given how much people complain about Glenn Close’s lack of an Oscar and how few films have come out this year, I hope the Academy finally gives her her due.

If you’ve never seen a white trash grandma, then here you go.

Overall, though, this film just ended up being pretty middle of the road. I really can’t recommend it. If you can deal with the politics, read the book, but otherwise just let this one go.

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Fatal Affair: Fatal Attraction, But Without the Quality – Netflix Review

It’s like Lifetime, but without the gravitas.


Ellie Warren (Nia Long) is an attorney whose husband, Marcus (Stephen Bishop), is recovering from an accident. Their marriage has been strained since their daughter, Brittany (Aubrey Cleland), has gone off to college. They’ve moved to San Francisco where Ellie wants to start her own practice, although her boss, Janice (Carolyn Hennesy), wants her to stay at her current firm. Janice introduces the firm’s new tech consultant, David (Omar Epps), who Ellie knew in college. David asks her out for a drink and Ellie goes with him. The two hit it off and almost have sex in the bathroom before Ellie calls it off. Unfortunately, it turns out that David is an obsessive stalker who has been focused on Ellie for a long time and has a dangerously violent side. Somehow, this is not particularly interesting.

Even in this shot, both the characters look like they just want to cash a check.


A few years ago Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell starred in a Lifetime movie called A Deadly Adoption where the joke of the film was that rather than being a parody Wiig and Ferrell played the film straight. Despite being two comedic geniuses, the movie wasn’t funny, it was just a normal Lifetime movie that wasted a ton of talent through trying to conform to a brand, and that was, itself, kind of a fun idea. This movie seems like it could have been going for the same thing except it appears to be designed to take a series of good actors and make sure that they deliver uninspired performances in a film that manages to be surprisingly boring. 

Again, the look tells me less “dealing with trauma” and more “please say cut.”

A lot of it comes from the fact that Fatal Affair can’t ever decide if there should be a “mystery” element, but then never tries to hide anything in the film. It opens with a double homicide that hides the perpetrator, but at no point in the movie does it suggest that it could be anyone other than David that did it. So, we don’t think David might be a man who is slowly breaking down, we’re instead fully aware that he’s a violent, murderous lunatic right off of the bat. The way that a movie like Fatal Attraction, which this movie clearly is trying to take beats from, works is by focusing on the fact that the main characters and the audience really aren’t aware of exactly how far the stalker is really willing to go. When Fatal Attraction came out 33 years ago, the thing that shocked everyone was how sadistic a seemingly normal person like Alex Forrest (Glenn “Please give her an Oscar” Close) could be. However, this movie can’t duplicate that for four reasons: 

Although this movie has fewer dead bunnies.

First, we already have Fatal Attraction. It’s a powerhouse film that created one of the most iconic characters in cinema. This movie can’t be that movie’s towel boy. Second, that movie actually features an affair. Despite the title of this movie, Ellie only goes out for a drink and then STOPS HERSELF from having sex with David. She doesn’t even have the “affair” required to be a fatal affair. This makes it even more ridiculous that she doesn’t own up to her husband after David starts going crazy. Third, we’re told right from the start that David is crazy and violent. Hell, he’s in mandatory therapy and makes up a relationship in the scene right after he goes out with Ellie. Lastly, everyone in this movie is a moron. Unlike Alex, David isn’t particularly good at covering his tracks on anything and if Ellie were really a resourceful lawyer, she could easily have figured out a dozen ways to get him investigated or arrested. The cops are idiots for not figuring out David murdered people. Ellie’s friend Courtney (Maya Stojan), who dates David, is an idiot for not believing her friend over a guy she’s now dated twice. Everyone is dumb.

This is pretty much the whole “affair.”

Moreover, this movie is just. so. boring. It has Omar Epps in it, an actor I enjoyed in both film and TV, as a psychotic killer, but I still can’t emphasize the fact that I don’t remember almost anything about this movie I just finished watching. All of the lines are removed of any tension by the way that the film is presented. 

I blame the director almost entirely for this movie.

Overall, not a good movie. Not even a fun ironically bad movie, until maybe the third act. Just don’t bother. 

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Netflix Review – The Girl with All the Gifts: A Semi-Original Take on Zombies

Children are the future, whether we want them or not.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Zombies! Well, technically, people infected by a special strain of the Ophiocordyceps unilateralis fungus which causes them to mindlessly try to infect any living tissue called “hungries,” but they’re zombies, people. The only hope for humanity is in the half-breed second generation hungries that have kept their ability to think, but still crave flesh mindlessly if it’s around. They can be pacified by a blocker gel that masks human scent, and then behave normally. 

GWATG - 1Students
They seem to like school more than normal kids, though.

In England, Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn “Give her a f*cking Oscar, please” Close) runs a facility that is trying to study the second generation children and develop a vaccine to the fungus that caused the zombies. The facility is supervised by Sergeant Parks (Paddy Considine) and the children are taught by Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton). The top student is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a girl who appears to possess more creativity and intelligence than the other second-gen children. When the facility is breached, the group tries to make their way to a new base through a horde of zombies, with Melanie being humanity’s last hope.


So, some of you probably noticed from the description that this film sounds fairly similar to the video game The Last of Us, particularly the fact that the zombies were caused by the Ophiocordyceps fungus spreading to humans and that a young infected girl is our only hope. I won’t deny that there are a lot of similarities… to the point that we see a number of overgrown buildings in one shot that make me feel a lot like the setting of the game and that sneaking is how most of the characters avoid the zombies. However, it’s a completely different type of narrative playing out and let’s not pretend that most zombie films don’t steal settings or rules from other stories. 

GWATG - 2Blood
Ellie didn’t usually have to wear a mask for safety.

A big part of why The Girl With All The Gifts works is that the story is solid. It’s not just using zombies as a metaphor (although they are used that way, as most good zombie films do), it’s also telling a story of a child growing up in a world that seems to be without hope. Melanie is constantly looked down upon by almost everyone around her due to the fact that she is part zombie (and she can’t control her urges very well if they kick in), but she still tries to do her best to please those she cares about. There is a running debate in the film as to whether she is actually human or just a fungus that presents as human, and it clearly weighs on many of the characters. It adds an interesting question on the nature of humanity that is answered differently than you might expect. 

GWATG - 3Helen
Would you protect a child that also might eat you?

The performances are also top-notch around the board. Glenn Close may not be in the kind of film that she usually thrives in, but she’s still a superb actress. I’ll acknowledge that I get a large amount of satisfaction from watching a seven-time Oscar nominee kill a zombie, as well. Paddy Considine’s performance is amazingly nuanced, despite the fact that he originally presents as a stock character. Gemma Arterton manages to similarly play a person who is managing, despite everything she witnesses, to treat Melanie like a human being. You can feel that she really loves the girl, but also that she knows the weight of the situation. Sennia Nanua is amazing in this, despite her young age. She manages to portray a bright, inquisitive, but also feral and ruthless child, depending on the scene. Just terrific acting all around.

… Yes, this definitely is not The Last of Us. Definitely not.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Zombie movies, you probably need to watch this. I really thought it was well done.

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Netflix Review – 3Below: Tales of Arcadia Part 2 (Season 2) (Spoiler-Free)


Guillermo del Toro’s Tales of Arcadia Trilogy wraps up the second act in a solid season of sci-fi and fantasy comedy.


It’s been a few weeks since the events of the Season 1 finale that coincided with the final episode of Trollhunters. Arcadia is now aware that trolls exist, but the troll battle managed to conceal the presence of any alien life, including the Akiridion protagonists Aja and Krel Tarron (Tatiana Maslany and Diego Luna), as well as their dog Luug (Frank Welker) and their ship’s AI Mother (Glenn “Yes, that Glenn Close” Close). They are joined by Akiridion-5 Lieutenant Zadra (Hayley Atwell), who arrived last season to save them from Varvatos Vex (Nick Offerman), who is revealed to have aided General Morando (Alon Aboutboul) in overthrowing the planet before changing back to serve the royals. Varvatos Vex ended up imprisoned on the moon by the Zeron Brotherhood (Darin De Paul and Ann Dowd). 

3Below - 4Crossover.jpg
Raise your hands if you think that’s a lot of cast members.

The siblings are still being pursued by bounty hunters, including the powerful Trono (Danny Trejo), sought by the US Government, particularly Colonel Kubritz (Uzo Aduba) who is now willing to start dealing with some devils to get the Akiridion Royals, and soon will face threats to Earth, Akiridion, and the very universe itself.


This season was a massive step up in a lot of ways. 

First, it moves the timeline past the end of Trollhunters and the changes to Arcadia that arose from the events of the series finale are played out through this season. A lot of the supporting cast are now quite a bit funnier and more absurd now that the world itself has become more absurd, particularly Stuart the alien (Nick Frost), Coach Steve (Thomas F. “I’m not just Biff” Wilson), and Principal Uhl (Fred Tatasciore). Each of them is just a little bit more exaggerated than their already unusual character traits had allowed and it really helps. Expanding Colonel Kubritz’s role, particularly in a world that has just dealt with an apocalyptic scenario, creates a more compelling villain who progressively represents the kind of hypocritical and almost insane xenophobia seen throughout the world. 

3Below - 5Uzo.jpg
Plus, Uzo Aduba just makes her so darned charming and evil.

Steve Palchuk (Steven Yeun) and Eli Pepperjack (Cole Sand) have evolved from just their roles as the stereotypical bully and nerd to being legitimate heroes, something that both feels natural and compelling. Making them have such major character arcs without having them be the main characters of either series is a great set-up for their presumably bigger role in the third Tales from Arcadia series, Wizards

3Below - 6Creepslayers.jpg
They also have the “Creepslayers” handshake worked out.

One expansion that I don’t actually think worked was playing up the role of Toby Domzalski (Charlie Saxton) as the comic relief. Without Jim Lake (Anton Yelchin (R.I.P.)/Emile Hirsch) and Claire Nuñez (Lexi Madrano) to balance them out and provide emotional moments, Toby and AAARRRGGHH (Fred Tatasciore) rely too hard on the “dumb, weird characters” archetype in this season. Granted, the mix of Sci-Fi and Fantasy does work at several points, including having AAARRRGGHH’s magical nature basically trump a sci-fi trope in a humorous way, but it still needed to give them a little more maturity. 

3Below - 7Aaarrrgghh
I do like that nobody finds Aaarrgghh weird. Everyone acclimated immediately.

There are a lot of decent gags in the season as well. I particularly love all the jokes about the Foo-foos, a race of robot rabbits on the moon. It’s simultaneously a reference to “Little Bunny Foo-Foo,” even having characters threaten to bop them on the head, and to the Asian myth of the rabbit on the moon. Also, their primary battle strategy is breeding an army quickly, because… rabbits breed. Get it? Get it??? GET IT??? Eh, still, it’s mostly funny. Also, they take some solid shots at Michael Bay and I love that. 

3Below - 8FooFoo

One thing that really plays well is the season’s theme, because it’s much more coherent than in the last one. This season is mostly about intolerance and the fact that we as humans tend to immediately want to isolate people that are strange to us, but that it’s ultimately better to try to work together. It comes at it from a number of directions and I think it mostly gets the point across without being too preachy. 

Overall, it’s a pretty solid show for kids. I’d recommend parents work it into the rotation. If you’re an adult, well, you can enjoy it, too.

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Oscar Review – The Favourite: Or The Wonderful Cycle of Suffering

Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) brings us a historical fiction about a rivalry for the ages.


It’s the early 1700s and Queen Anne’s War (or, in Europe, the War of Spanish Succession) has been going for nearly a decade. Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is not in good health and most of the ruling decisions are made by her friend and secret lover Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz). While Sarah favors taxing the landowners to continue the war, the head of the Tories, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), opposes taxation and seeks to convince the Queen to end the war.

Favourite - 1Blindfold
Oddly, this scene’s not sexual.

Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), Sarah’s cousin, arrives to seek employment, her father having squandered her family’s wealth (and having lost Abigail previously in a card game to a German). Abigail becomes a maid, but after she puts some healing herbs on the Queen’s gout-ridden leg, she is promoted to Lady-in-Waiting. Abigail soon discovers that Sarah and the Queen have sex, but does not tell Harley, even after he threatens her to be his spy.

Favourite - 2Harley
America needs more big fluffy wigs and fake moles in our legislature.

Abigail and Sarah develop a friendship, but as Abigail becomes closer to the Queen, it becomes a rivalry. Abigail first talks to the Queen about her rabbits, which she discovers represent each of Anne’s 17 unsuccessful pregnancies, something Sarah clearly never cared to ask about. Eventually, Abigail uses her position to sleep with the Queen, which Sarah finds out immediately and dismisses her. However, Queen Anne hires her back. With Sarah now actively trying to curry back the Queen’s favour to get rid of Abigail, Abigail poisons Sarah’s tea, resulting in her being dragged for days on a horse and nearly forced into sex slavery. While she’s gone, Abigail convinces the Queen to allow her to marry Baron Samuel Masham (Joe Alwyn), regaining her title and wealth. When Sarah returns, she threatens the Queen to either send Abigail away or have their sexual relationship revealed. Sarah eventually destroys the evidence of their relationship, but this has ended her friendship with the Queen. Sarah is sent away and then framed for theft by Abigail, resulting in her exile from Britain.

Favourite - 3OneEye.jpg
She also looks like a Victorian Supervillain.

At the end of the film, Abigail has now become cruel and egotistical, and the Queen dislikes her because of how she forced Sarah out. After going one step too far and hurting one of the Queen’s rabbits, the Queen forces Abigail to rub her legs like a common servant.

Favourite - 4Constipated.png
It’s tough to stare someone down while looking up, Abigail.


The general story behind this movie isn’t exactly original (whether in fiction or history). It’s the powerful being corrupted and overthrown by the downtrodden… only for the downtrodden to now become the powerful and corrupted. When we see Sarah in the film, she mostly takes Queen Anne for granted and talking to her like a child, despite the fact that Anne, being, you know, QUEEN is actually much more powerful. She also antagonizes almost everyone, from the Tories to Abigail (who she pretends to shoot as a threat when Abigail learns her secret love life). The only advantage she really has is that she’s the Queen’s only lover and confidant. She also risks her husband’s (Mark Gatiss) life, seemingly with only a moderate amount of concern, by continuing a war that he is fighting. Despite that, she is trying to do what she thinks is best for the country, not necessarily just herself.

Favourite - 5Sarah.png
She also knows how to work a room.

When we first see Abigail, she is ostensibly fairly honorable, but has dealt with a lot of hardship because of her father, including having to be the sex slave of a German man to honor her father’s wager. She’s basically a classic tragic figure. While she sees the merit in gaining the Queen’s favor, she does also seem to be genuinely interested in helping her and being friendly towards her and Sarah. However, as the movie progresses, we see her scheme more and more and with less and less concern for the morality of her actions. She even says at one point that her honor won’t be much comfort if she’s forced to become a prostitute to survive. Eventually, she stops caring about anyone besides herself, becoming even more antagonizing to everyone than Sarah was.

Favourite - 6Crying.png
Sarah would never have resorted to the fake cry.

Anne is the most sympathetic character, because she’s constantly in a position that she doesn’t want, is in physical pain, is dealing with a number of traumas, and her closest friends are constantly taking vengeance upon each other. However, she also is someone who could have prevented many of the issues in the movie had she just been more assertive. That’s part of why it’s satisfying in the end to see her take control over Abigail and diminish her feeling of invincibility.

Favourite - 7Comparison
It’s tough to be the queen. 

Neither Sarah nor Abigail ever chooses to end the cycle of escalating attacks between them, even though either one could end it. Abigail even points this out to Sarah after she becomes a Baroness again, but neither can stand the other one having the last strike at them. Sarah does finally try to stop, choosing to burn the letters between her and the Queen for Anne’s sake, but by this time it’s too late, and Abigail realizes that she has to remove Sarah forever to ensure her power, which cements her as truly corrupted.

Favourite - 8Blood
It gets really rough.

The costuming and sets in the movie are excellent, as expected for a period piece like this. They’re not exactly accurate (I’m told), but the outfits do a good job of conveying how the characters are trying to present themselves in a scene, particularly the more masculine shooting outfits that Sarah adopts to try and show dominance over Abigail.

Favourite - 9Outfit
I don’t know period accuracy, but I know what Queen Anne likes.

The cinematography is interesting, with a lot of the film using wide-angle fisheye lenses. From a practical standpoint, this shot shows the entirety of a room, something that shows off the setting rather than just the character, but from a narrative standpoint it tends to isolate the characters, showing how they are trapped within the rooms because of their choices. It’s definitely the easiest Yorgos Lanthimos film to watch, but it will still throw some people off.

Favourite - AParty
It also serves to give distance between the characters… and create this neat mirror effect.

The performances are all amazing, and I think Olivia Colman’s performance as a stroke-ravaged Anne is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen. Given how much of the communication between characters relies on what is being intended rather than what is being said, anything less from the actors might have wrecked the film.

Overall, it’s a great movie and practically screams “Oscar Bait.” I don’t know that it’ll win, but it’s definitely worth seeing and Olivia Colman is the only person who might take the Oscar from Glenn Close this year.

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Netflix Review – 3Below: Tales of Arcadia Part 2

The second entry in Guillermo Del Toro’s world of Arcadia is a sci-fi series that has a lot of familiar feels.


Princess Aja (Tatiana Maslany) and Prince Krel (Diego Luna) are the heirs to the throne of House Tarron, the ruling house of Akiridion-5. However, on the day of their coronation, a mad dictator named Val Morando (Alon Aboutboul) takes over the planet, resulting in Aja and Krel, and their “dog” Luug (Frank Welker), being carried away from the planet by their guardian, the great warrior Varvatos Vex (Nick f*cking Offerman). They manage to collect the greatly wounded bodies of their parents and put them in stasis as they head for the nearest planet that might provide safety, which happens to be Earth. After crash-landing in Arcadia, California, the ship’s computer (Glenn Close) cloaks the group by making Aja, Krel, and Varvatos look like humans and the ship look like a suburban home. The three must find a way to avoid the bounty hunters sent by Val Morando and fix the ship so that they can fix their parents and make it back home.

3Below - 1Cast.png
Nick Offerman voicing the oldest person on Earth is hilarious. 


This is the Sci-Fi to the Fantasy of Trollhunters, but, admittedly, it doesn’t create the worlds quite as well as the former did. While we are introduced to interesting alien species in the form of the bounty hunters and a few of Earth’s secret resident aliens, most of the actions take place in the city of Arcadia, populated by most of the same characters from Trollhunters. While those characters are, for the most part, great and some of them are expanded upon well, we only get a handful of new characters created for this show that get the same kind of care. We also don’t get much time in other locations, despite the fact that we are doing an alien-centric sci-fi show. That said, Arcadia is still pretty awesome and the characters are still very enjoyable, particularly when interacting with the abnormal behavior of the aliens.

3Below - 2Parents.jpg
The android fake parents are a little reminiscent of Invader Zim… which is a good thing.

The biggest plus for me is Nick Offerman as Varvatos Vex. In the beginning, you’ll find his character annoying and overblown, because that’s what he’s supposed to be. By the end, though, you discover why he acts the way he does, and it retroactively makes everything seem so much more interesting and deeper than could have been predicted up front. That said, the main reason his character is even tolerable is that he’s played by Nick Offerman who is completely dedicated to his performance. Much like with Offerman’s Ron Swanson, this character’s exaggerated elements move from “tough to deal with” to “lovable” as time goes on.

3Below - 3Varvatos.jpg
The Cane-Fu is a bit much at times, but hey, it’s not often.

Aja and Krel’s journeys are a little cliche nowadays, because Aja is trying to avoid being a princess while Krel is more comfortable being a prince. I get that we are trying to make up for the fact that women were only allowed to be princesses in most of Western Fiction for pretty much all of history until very recently, but her method of refusing to take the throne is similar to how most modern female characters try to reject the archetype, which is now itself becoming an archetype. Fortunately, the show seems to realize that and, a few episodes in, she starts to break from the mold a little bit more in her pursuit of being a warrior. Krel, for the most part, is the tech genius who wants to both be normal at school and also get the parts of his life back that he enjoyed.

The crossovers with Trollhunters actually make for pretty good episodes, too. The season finale takes place at the same time as the series finale of that series, which makes for some interesting parallel action.

3Below - 4Crossover.jpg

The show’s humor definitely saves it at some points. The fish-out-of-water story of the aliens trying to blend in with humanity is pretty well done, but it’s better when combined with the goofy and somewhat off-kilter residents of Arcadia.

Overall, I look forward to seeing more of this series if there is more to see. If not, I look forward to seeing what Wizards does to tie the whole universe together.

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If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.